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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Sega Master System Reviews C-E

California Games
Grade: A-

screenshotAfter being disappointed by the Genesis version of California Games (Genesis, 1991) I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to track down its 8-bit incarnation. As is sometimes the case however, this lower-tech version is actually more fun, with more events to boot! You can tell the programmers took pride in their work, constructing a rich audio/visual experience easily mistaken for a 16-bit title.

The opening screen plays a tuneful rendition of Louie Louie over a shiny California license plate, which really gets you psyched. The opening half pipe event is challenging as hell, partly because you have to unintuitively press up and down to increase your skateboard speed. Footbag (aka hacky-sack) is more accessible as you use good timing to keep a little ball in the air with your feet. A bridge provides a scenic backdrop, and hitting a seagull nets you bonus points.

There's not a whole lot to the surfing event, as you just carve around and perform the occasional jump. Still, the frothy blue water looks refreshing and it's cool how a shark or dolphin will cross the screen after each wipe out. The skating event really has a fun-in-the-sun beach vibe as your bikini-clad babe navigates a boardwalk strewn with hazards like cracks, grates, sand, and beach balls. In the BMX stage you race a bike along a hilly dirt track, launching off ramps and performing stunts.

Wrapping things up is flying disc which takes place at a picturesque park. After first hurling the disc with a golf-style meter, you then move a second player to catch it. It's very satisfying when you make a diving catch! You'll probably want to keep the manual handy to reference all the elaborate controls. It also includes a glossary of California lingo like gnarly, tubular, and aggro. I enjoyed playing California Games both alone and with friends. It's ideal summer fun and probably the best version you'll find. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: skating
Our high score: 1310
1 to 4 players 

Captain Silver
Grade: B

screenshotLong before Captain Jack Sparrow made pirates fashionable (in more ways than one) Captain Silver ruled the Sega Master System. As one astute reader observed, this is one of the few games not named after its protagonist but instead it's villain! A side-scroller with colorful graphics and simple gameplay, Captain Silver is captivating fun. Assuming the role of an old-world adventurer by the name of Jack Avery, you jump and slash your way through towns, ships, islands, and caves.

Complementing the tropical visuals is a rollicking musical arrangement that embodies the carefree spirit of a swashbuckling adventure. Your sword has terrific range and pixie power-ups enable you to unleash bursts of shooting stars. You can direct these up, down, and even sideways while hanging off masts and ladders. The action is slow and methodical but satisfying.

Defeated enemies leave behind floating letters, and collecting enough to spell "Captain Silver" to earn a free life becomes an obsession. Your first few foes are pretty tame, including giant teddy bears (ahem... "werewolves"), green pumpkins, and Cheshire cats. Later you'll battle bloodthirsty buccaneers, poisonous frogs, and natives with spears. The game doesn't keep score but your gold can be used for this purpose.

Players of the American version may find certain aspects of Captain Silver confusing. Why don't the pirates fire their guns? Why does the instruction booklet show a witch, cyclops, dragon, and banana king? As it turns out, this American version omitted large chunks of the original game to save memory costs. We're talking about enemies, bosses, and entire levels! Fortunately you can still get the full experience by importing the European version. In retrospect, this abbreviated Captain Silver feels like a warm-up to the real thing. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 97,200
1 player 

Captain Silver (Europe)
Grade: A

screenshotFor so many years I thought my Captain Silver cartridge was perfectly good. While the game was short and easy, I loved its detailed graphics, lively music, and swashbuckling spirit. Then last month I came to the realization that everything I've ever known is wrong. A reader broke the heartbreaking news to me that the American release is in fact a shortened version. Some might even say it was neutered!

In order to make a few extra cents per game the tightwad son-of-a-[bleep] publisher stripped out a substantial portion of the content (including entire stages and bosses) to squeeze the game into a smaller chip. Can you believe that!? Fortunately Master System games are not region-locked, so I could still experience the superior, fully-realized European version. All I can say is "wow".

One thing that stands out is the difficulty. Just getting past the first stage is a tall order. Enemies are far more aggressive and there are many more of them including a witch boss! She's one of the several bosses completely missing from the American version. The pirates in stage two actually fire their guns! This game is a thrill, and if you're a Captain Silver fan you owe it to yourself to try this European version. It's like a whole new adventure! © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 63,600
1 player 

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (1990)
Posted: 2018/1/31

screenshotCastle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Genesis, 1990) is a wholesome, leisurely platformer that enchants everyone who plays it. That's a fact. This Sega Master System version offers less enchantment but more challenge. The graphics are exquisitely detailed beginning with the castle in the opening scene. The first three stages are set in a magical forest, a toy land, and wonderland of sugary confections. You can play these stages in any order you want, and that's always a great feature.

The gameplay is not exactly what I was expecting. It's actually more complicated than the Genesis version, oddly enough. It's all about picking up and throwing objects. If you push Mickey against an object and he wraps his hands around it, you can pick it up and chuck it. But if you approach an object you can't pick up, like a radio transmitter, you take damage. That's kind of bogus. I like how the stages have multiple paths and hidden goodies.

There's plenty of variety as hop between tree branches, climb down into caves, and leap between floating leaves. You'll perform your lethal butt-bounce to take out spiders, animated chess pieces, and toy airplanes. Castle of Illusion is fun but not without its irritations. Sometimes you'll fall right through a solid floor, which is really cheap! Nothing's worse than surviving a perilous sequence only to fall through a floor.

In the confection level it's really hard to tell what you can or can't jump on. It makes no sense that floating candy is harmful considering you collect cake slices to refill your health! The music incorporates the same melodies as the excellent Genesis soundtrack, but its high pitch is less soothing to the ears. Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse is no walk in the park but it's still one of the better platformers for the system. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 16,660
1 player 

Grade: A
Publisher: Sega (1985)
Posted: 2000/12/14

screenshotThis action-packed helicopter game was available on many systems, but this version takes the cake. It's also the most difficult. Your mission is to rescue hostages in enemy territory while avoiding enemy fire. The graphics are sharp and well defined. From the architecture of the buildings, to the clouds in the sky, to the tiny animated people, there is plenty of attention to detail.

A nice surprise is the ocean level, in which you need to rescue prisoners from ships at sea. This is a great idea, and although it plays the same as the land levels, it looks fantastic. As I mentioned before, the difficulty is fairly extreme; you'll take ground fire from cannons, tanks, and jeeps, as well as air fire from enemy planes. You can't stay in any place for long, especially when picking up prisoners. This is one exciting game. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 52600
1 or 2 player 

Dead Angle
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (1989)
Posted: 2024/4/16

screenshotI was pretty psyched when I sat down to review this 1930's-era gangster shooter. Curled up in my easy chair with light gun in hand, I was all set to mow down some low-down dirty punks. So... why is the gun sight not moving when I point the gun? This is a light gun game, isn't it? Apparently not, but maybe it should have been.

Dead Angle feels like a cross between Mafia II (Xbox 360, 2010) and Super Punch Out!! (SNES, 1994). Your character is rendered as a yellow outline in the center of the screen. As gangster thugs pour out of the woodwork you use a normal controller to take aim at them by dragging a reticle around the screen.

The stages include the streets of Chicago, the docks of New York, and hotel hallway, but there's not a whole lot to see. You can aim side-to-side or upward to peruse the scene, but it's very generic. You can't shoot up any of the scenery, although health and rapid-fire icons do appear on occasion.

The criminals are large and look realistic. Some are decked out in pin-striped suits and others wear dapper yellow suits like Dick Tracy. They tend to dart around and even roll to avoid gunfire. You'll often see the message "Do not stand in front of enemy." Apparently you're susceptible to incoming fire when a bad guy is positioned in front of your outline.

Avoiding them is easier said than done. Bad guys jump out of windows, fall from the sky, and often simply materialize right in front of you! Your reticle movements feel clumsy and the gangster animation is extremely choppy. Apparently the duck button is supposed to protect you, but who has time for that? In my experience it's only useful during boss encounters. Shoot the boss when he's off to the side and hold duck when he's near the center.

A counter on the bottom right of the screen keeps track of how many enemies you have left to shoot. The highlight of the game is the machine gun power-up which lets you spray bullets with reckless abandon. You'd think the rapid-fire attachment might facilitate this for all weapons, but it doesn't work with this game.

When you get shot your character yells "ouch!" in a wimpy, high-pitched voice. Dead Angle was apparently adapted from an arcade game. Maybe this could have worked on a 16-bit system, but porting it to the Sega Master System was a bridge too far I'm afraid. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 85,500
1 player 

Digger Chan
Grade: C
Publisher: Aypok (2011)
Posted: 2012/2/20

screenshotIt's rough around the edges but I love having this homebrew in my collection. Digger Chan is a brand new Sega Master System game that comes complete in a case with a glossy, full-color manual. Heck, there's even a Usage and Precautions booklet! (Side note: Do not submerge this cartridge in water!) The game's premise will be familiar to those who've played Mr. Driller (Dreamcast, 1999). You control a little guy digging into the earth by making groups of colored blocks disappear.

Destroying larger groups of contiguous blocks lets you descend quicker and rack up more points, but you'll need to keep a close eye on your "milk meter". If you spot a bottle of milk, be sure to work your way over to it so you can replenish your health. Occasionally you'll stumble upon a bundle of dynamite, and when that happens you'll need to run for cover.

Digger Chan is easy to grasp and fun to play for score, but its controls are a liability. It's easy to get stuck on the edge of a block and occasionally you'll even get stuck in mid air! Scientists have been unable to explain this strange phenomenon. The erratic controls are especially frustrating when you uncover dynamite and Digger is suddenly less-than-responsive. In terms of graphics the colorful blocks look nice but the animation is pretty stiff. The music that plays throughout the stages sounds a little random, but the tune that plays between stages strikes a nice old-school chord.

My friend Scott made a good point about the main character. Could they have come up with a less-Asian-looking guy to play the part of Chan? I mean, the guy has blonde hair and blue eyes for Pete's sake! Was the name "Digger Olaf" already taken? And don't get me started about that haircut. Despite its quirks this game is a commendable effort that deserves support from classic gamers. For more information check out the official Digger Chan web site. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: arcade
Our high score: 4967
1 player 

Double Dragon
Grade: D-

screenshotI've always had a soft spot for Double Dragon, but this is not the best version. The graphics aren't bad, with detailed characters and colorful street, factory, and jungle locations. Likewise the rousing uptempo music is great, reminding me of Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (Sega, 1986). The action begins with a thug slugging your girl in the gut and carrying her off. That's illegal.

The controls could be better. You can punch and kick, but your punch extends farther than the kick! I hate how you tend to overlap with a foe, so you can't hit him and he can't hit you. To jump-kick or perform a flying roundhouse you press both buttons at once. Since these are the two best moves in the game, you find yourself mashing both buttons incessantly. It's tiresome and inexact.

Enemies absorb way too many hits before going down. You're telling me I have to jump-kick a thug seven times to defeat him? I have to bash a dude with a club eight times? Even if you smash a frickin' boulder over a guy's head, you'll still need to do it multiple times! The single-player action is acceptable but with two players the flicker is unbearable.

What's up with all the red hair in this game? You sport bright red hair, as do the women. One of the black guys does as well. Hell, even the green guy has red hair! Wait, why is he green? Double Dragon is disappointing. Sometimes you'll execute a sweet jump-kick/head-butt combination but for the most part the quality is just not there. I encourage people to experience Double Dragon, but not like this. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 15,830
1 or 2 players 

Dynamite Dux
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (1989)
Posted: 2018/9/23

screenshotIt's hard to take a game seriously with a name like Dynamite Dux, but sometimes a wacky side-scroller is what you really need. I probably would have never even heard of this had I not stumbled upon its review in an old 1989 GamePro magazine. This arcade-style brawler incorporates a lot of weird, random ideas. The background story is typical: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, monster abducts girl and transforms boy into blue duck. He'll exact his revenge on inviting city streets with branching thoroughfares and colorful building facades. Wait - is that Colonel Sanders loitering in the background?

The single-player fighting action boasts the most forgiving collision detection in the history of video games. There can be a sizable gap between you and your foe, yet throwing a punch will send them flying! It's crazy. Your hodgepodge of foes includes hopping dog heads, roller-skating cats, rabbits on pogo sticks, and belly-dancing rhinos. The jump button is mainly an evasive maneuver, but your wind-up punch is the real deal! It can take out multiple enemies at a time and make short work of bosses.

But the true highlight of the game is the ability to use weapons like machine guns and bazookas! My cat Claire watched me play this and even she looked on in disbelief. The soundtrack consists of happy-go-lucky tunes of the carefree variety. Dynamite Dux is a little short and easy, but let's face it - playing oddball titles like this is one of the joys of classic gaming. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 525,850
1 player 

Enduro Racer
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (1987)
Posted: 2000/11/18

screenshotThis motorcycle game reminds me of Excitebike for the NES. You ride on a diagonal-scrolling screen, jumping ramps, passing other vehicles, and trying to make it to the finish line before time runs out. The ten levels take you through five environments, including country, ruins, desert, marsh, and mountains. The graphics are nice, but the scenery isn't very spectacular; basically trees and rocks. And what's up with the color? The trees and the mountain trails are both blue, which makes it look like I need to adjust my TV. It's really an endurance test to make it through all ten races. Each race lasts a minute or less. Between races you can use your bonus points to upgrade your bike, and the upgrades make a dramatic difference. I wasn't exactly hooked on Enduro Racer, but trying to make it through all ten races is a worthy challenge. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, GameSpot, Digital Press, Moby Games